EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: The Dark Side and the Sunny Side
As I sit down with a blank screen in front of me to write my weekly column, I usually begin the process by heading over to No Depression‘s website to check out what’s on the minds of some of the other writers. While we each have our own areas of interest, you certainly don’t want to end up with a half-dozen articles about the same subject matter. And it also gives me the opportunity to scroll back and read some of my recent work to see if I’m falling into a rabbit hole of redundancy. Lo and behold, it turns out that since March there is a particular theme that runs through almost every one of my columns, and if I’m getting tired of it, you must be dreadfully bored. No, it’s not my zest and passion for Moby Grape. It’s the damn virus.
Y’all remember the Black Death? It was also known as the Plague and the Pestilence, and that particular pandemic peaked between 1347 and 1352, killing anywhere between 75 million and 200 million people. Not having the scientific tools that we have today, there were no means for coming up with an accurate number of those who caught it and passed away, but the US Census Bureau maintains an historical estimate of the world population over the centuries based on various sources, and in that time period, which also includes the Great Famine, it appears that the population dipped from 475 million to 350 million people in just one hundred years.
As pandemics go — and please don’t take this the wrong way or consider me insensitive — our COVID-19 is a cakewalk compared to what those poor souls went through. Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote, “At the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits … waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils.” According to The History Channel, “Blood and pus seeped out of these strange swellings, which were followed by a host of other unpleasant symptoms — fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, terrible aches and pains — and then, in short order, death.” As neither Clorox injections nor tanning beds had yet to be invented then, physicians used bloodletting, boil-lancing, superstitious practices such as burning aromatic herbs, and bathing in rosewater or vinegar to treat their patients.
That lovely piece was written by the French poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut, who went into isolation during the plague and began experimenting with new sounds and rhythms.
While clearly affected by what was happening in the world around him, he refused to let the Black Death seep into his work. “Music is a science which asks that one laugh, and sing, and dance. It does not care for melancholy, nor for the man who is melancholy.” I read that quote in an article from The Guardian, which speaks of music surviving for 2,700 years through all sorts of catastrophic events. Dr. Chris Macklin, a former professor of musicology at Mercer University and an authority on plague music — yes there is such a term — has written “Music was not a luxury in times of epidemic uncertainty — it was a necessity.”
As we fast forward to 2020, an entire community of musicians and those who support them must feel as if they are in free fall. As social media is bursting at the seams with home-based concerts and larger platform streaming, and with new music continuing to be released with no option to tour, sell, and earn a return on investment, let alone a profit to pay for basic needs, it’s no wonder we see daily headlines of doom and gloom. But is there something on the other side, something that when we do come out of this is even better than what we had before?
English singer-songwriter Laura Marling’s latest album, Song for Our Daughter, had been scheduled for release next August. Changing course and with only a week’s notice, she decided to release it immediately. “In light of the change to all our circumstances, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union. … An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I’d like for you to have it.”
During her time in isolation, Marling has been very active on her social media account. Not only does she perform songs from home, but her guitar lessons are exceptional. As someone who has been playing for many decades, I am surprised that I never explored DADDAD tuning, and it’s allowed me to pass hours lost in my own creativity. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, Marling announced the first major geo-blocked concert of this year and sold it out within days. Ticket holders will watch the show via YouTube, using a private link they’re receive just before showtime. According to a Variety writeup, a small number of staff and crew will help produce the show. Out of despair, comes opportunity.
For more thoughts on that, look no further than right here at No Depression, with musician and The Long Haul columnist Rachel Baiman’s latest piece, titled “Stepping Back, Taking Stock.” I think it’s a must read for any touring musician who may be pondering a path forward. Her words really struck me, and I shall leave you by sharing her final paragraph.
“I heard once that an interruption of routine is the best path to innovation, and never have I felt that to be the case more than now. Touring being canceled for the foreseeable future may just be the tipping point we musicians need when it comes to realizing how much we’ve been cheating ourselves financially this past decade. I still love live performance above all, and I will be thrilled when I can hit the road again. But I’m going to make sure I do it on my terms this time — when and how I want to, and in a safe and sane way.”
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here at my own site, herealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.